Series newcomer Jordan King set the pace in the first practice of the new 2015 GP2 season, as action got underway on Friday at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.
King set the benchmark time of 1:42.441s early in the first session of the weekend on the 3.363-mile, 15-turn grand prix circuit, putting him narrowly ahead of Racing Engineering team mate Alexander Rossi at the end of a straight-forward maiden session marred only by a technical failure for title favourite Stoffel Vandoorne.
CLICK: Full practice times from Bahrain.
As expected for the desert-based circuit, conditions for the 45-minute noon session were bone dry and searingly hot, meaning that drivers had to be careful not immediately ruin their tyres by overdoing things when they came out for their first warm-up lap, with only five sets of medium and soft compound Pirelli tyres available to each driver for the entire weekend.
Among the ten cars to hit the track straight away, Alexander Rossi was the first to set a genuine laptime of 1:42.451s, with ART's Vandoorne soon slotting in two tenths behind. As more drivers joined the action, DAMS' Alex Lynn split the lead pair seconds before Rossi's team mate Jordan King went a hundredth of a second faster than anyone so far to go top.
That was still someway off last year's pole time of 1:38.865s set by eventual champion Jolyon Palmer, but comparable with the fastest lap of the 2014 feature race which had been 1:43.504s by Russian Time's Artem Markelov.
Despite slight improvements in laptimes from Lynn and Vandoorne, the Racing Engineering pair stayed on top through to the traditional mid-session lull as the cars came back onto pit lane for set-up adjustments and discussions between the drivers and their teams ready for a final push in the final 15 minutes. King and Rossi were among the first to return to action, but even they could not find any extra speed as tyre wear started to take its toll on all the competitors.
There seemed little opportunity for further improvement further back in the field either, with Lynn and Vandoorne static in third and fourth. Vandoorne's efforts ultimately came to a premature end seven minutes from the end of the session when the ART suffered an oil pressure problem as it exited turn 2 on what would have been the Belgian's 15th lap of the day.
With local waved yellows out while Vandoorne's car was retrieved from the run-off, no one could even contemplate starting a new flying lap until there was less than four minutes remaining.
Even once the yellows were no longer on parade, the top four remained unassailed and in a class of their own through to the chequered flag and post-session virtual safety car test. Despite his early finish, Vandoorne was still more than three tenths of a second ahead of Campos Racing pair Arthur Pic and Rio Haryanto, Pierre Gasly (DAMS), Mitch Evans (Russian Time) and Raffaele Marciello (Trident) with ART's Japanese F3 champion Nobuharu Matsushita rounding out the top ten.
Although several drivers had brief off-track moments with Lynn among those running wide at the tricky turn 10 as everyone tested the limits of the circuit with the new-to-GP2 drag reduction system fitted to the rear wings of the cars, there were no significant moments requiring a red flag, just the local waved yellows triggered by Vandoorne.
Lazarus appeared to have some early technical problems with Zoël Amberg's car, the Swiss rookie running only five laps during the session and unable to set a truly representative time, ending practice over nine seconds off King and Rossi at the front.
Only 24 cars are in action in Bahrain after Hilmer Motorsport's surprise decision not to take part in the opening round of the season, apparently after being unable to secure the services of two drivers with sufficient sponsorship backing behind them to enable the team to compete this weekend.
The remaining participating teams will all be back at work later today in a floodlit qualifying session at 8pm local time (6pm BST). The 32-lap feature race 1 will get underway on Saturday at 1.10pm (11.10am BST) with the 23-lap sprint race 2 set for Sunday afternoon at 2.15pm (12.15pm BST).
See full practice times from Bahrain.